This year is something of a turning point for the Talking Stick Festival in Vancouver. Twenty years after its inception, the festival adds original theater to the repertoire along with the usual dance, music, storytelling, poetry slam and workshops.
“It has always been my dream to showcase world-class pieces of Aboriginal Canadian theatre in the festival, and this year the dream is realized,” said Margo Kane, who oversees the festival as artistic and managing director of Full Circle First Nations Performance, Talking Stick’s parent organization, in a statement. “We are presenting many artists of various disciplines whose creative spirits have been nurtured to reach a level of maturity exhibited in their rich works at this year’s festival.”
And what a lineup it is. Plays by award-winning author, playwright and humorist Drew Hayden Taylor, actor and writer Sheldon Elter, and the actress-playwright Monique Mojica have all made a mark elsewhere and now headline this annual celebration of aboriginal talent.
First playing, on February 21 and 22, will be Sheldon Elter’s autobiographical Metis Mutt, a one-man autobiographical play that depicts, among other life events, his rise as a comedian and his struggles with addiction. He is already known for appearing in the APTN comedy series Caution: May Contain Nuts and for coming in at number 14 on Canadian Idol in 2006, according to the Vancouver Sun.
“Elter is a skilled actor and storyteller, and his presence commands attention throughout,” the Edmonton Sun has said of his work. “By turns screamingly funny and brutally honest, it’s a one-man show that blows all kinds of prejudices out of the water.”
Hayden Taylor’s In a World Created by a Drunken God was a finalist in 2006 for a Governor General’s Award, according to the Straight. An Ojibwe who grew up in Curve Lake First Nations, Hayden Taylor depicts the dilemma faced by an aboriginal who is contacted by a half-sibling in search of a kidney for the biological father they share—a father who never showed up in the protagonist’s life before this. It will run February 23 through 25.
Mojica, Kuna (Panama) and Rappahannock, wrote Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way, which she performs with her grandmother. It’s the story of a woman who “saves her own life by returning to her ancestral land and connecting to powerful female forces within Kuna cosmology, such as Chocolate Woman,” reads a poster for a June 2011 Toronto performance. The Talking Stick Festival will present it from February 28 through March 3.
Aside from these groundbreaking performances, the 14-day festival, which runs from February 20 through March 4, will present an array of traditional and contemporary aboriginal art, dance, hoop dancing, slam poetry and more. Professional development workshops and talks by the artists themselves will round out the offerings. Information about the Talking Stick Festival and a detailed lineup are available at the Full Circle First Nations Performance's festival site.